Natural refrigerant technology can help states comply with Clean Power Plan

By Elke Milner, Aug 07, 2015, 12:21 4 minute reading

On 3 August, the US EPA and President Obama announced the final Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The Plan has the potential to open new opportunities for the adoption of natural refrigerant technologies.

Widely considered President Obama’s most ambitious climate policy to date, the Clean Power Plan is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programme to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. 
In a nutshell, the EPA is giving each state an individualised goal to reduce emissions from their electric power plants, and each state gets to determine how it meets the goal. Each state is meant to submit a game plan by September 2016 and begin cutting emissions by 2022 at the latest. 
As can be expected, some states are raising concerns about unemployment and increased electricity costs (North Carolina’s Senate has already approved a bill, now on its way to the House, to fight the Plan).
Here’s the thing, though: The plan allows each state to determine how it reaches its individual goal. Between submitting the plan in September 2016 (states can apply for an extension up to 2018) and the average compliance period, states have about six years to get the plan in motion. Every coal-fired power plant is not shutting down tomorrow.
On the other hand, California is already way ahead of the game, having passed its California Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006, which requires that greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, putting the state on track to meet the EPA’s new emissions target years ahead of schedule.
So where do natural refrigerants come in?
Of course, a major focus of the new Plan is on moving toward renewable sources of energy, but the Plan also maintains energy efficiency as a key compliance tool, allowing broad flexibility for states to design their carbon reduction plans with an emphasis on energy efficiency and other emission reduction strategies.
The EPA conducted a neat little study profiling an average US supermarket and the resulting greenhouse gas impacts from leaked refrigerants and electricity consumption in a given year. 
Basically, an ‘average’ supermarket using an HFC refrigerant like R-404A will leak about 25% of the refrigerant per year, resulting in about 3,431,400 pounds (1,556 metric tonnes) of CO2 equivalent emissions per year. 
In addition, this same supermarket will consume about 2,346,000 kWh of electricity per year, about half of which can be attributed to refrigeration, resulting in 3,049,800 pounds (1,383 metric tonnes) of CO2 equivalent emissions per year. 
Taking this same example, an average US supermarket could use a transcritical CO2 refrigeration system, that would have a minimal leak rate (saving about 90% on refrigerant costs annually) and use a non-toxic, non-flammable natural refrigerant with zero ozone depleting potential, and a global warming potential of one. These systems have proven time and time again to be as efficient and at times even more efficient than traditional HFC technology, even in high ambient temperatures. In addition, integrated CO2 systems recover waste heat to provide other necessary functions such as space and water heating or even drive an absorption chiller during summer months for additional cooling, further reducing energy consumption.
So instead of getting in a frenzy, other states could take a page from California’s book.
One of the ways California is working to reach its emissions reductions goals is through a Refrigerant Management Plan that requires better control of high-GWP refrigerant leaks, which is sparking interest in the implementation of low-GWP solutions like natural refrigerant based technology. 
The state’s power utilities are catching on as well. If utilities’ customers are using energy efficient technologies, they are reducing grid demand and ensuring that a sufficient amount of power can be supplied to everyone affordably. 
Southern California Edison, a primary electricity supplier for southern California, focuses a lot of effort in providing energy-saving alternatives to its customers in order to cut peak demands. To encourage their adoption, the utility incentivises the use of these new or emerging technologies. 
In the same vein, tests in North Pacific states comparing the energy efficiency of CO2 heat pump water heaters in single-family homes contend that CO2 technology is three times more efficient than a conventional electric water heater. 
Red Bull has designed an ‘ECO Cooler’ using natural refrigerant isobutane (R600a) to merchandise its energy drinks. Seven of these coolers use less energy than a single 100W light bulb.
The adoption of natural refrigerant technologies across the US HVAC&R industry can reduce greenhouse gas emissions both directly, by reducing leaks of high GWP refrigerants, and indirectly, by increasing energy efficiency in the sector and requiring less electricity from power plants. Steps like this can help states make the move toward relying more on renewable energy sources while also encouraging other sustainable and environmentally friendly practices and complying with the new Clean Power Plan.


By Elke Milner

Aug 07, 2015, 12:21

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